At first, I.cx looks like a regular webmail client. A little rough around the edges, perhaps, but the outlines are there: messages, senders, clients, an inbox. You can send messages to friends, who get access by answering an agreed-on security question.
But this isn't e-mail. E-mail is a notoriously insecure system. Even messages securely transmitted to the central server are usually stored in an unencrypted format and – like so much information stored in the cloud – they can be read by anyone who can access it, be they hackers or your friendly neighbourhood national-security apparatus.
I.cx encrypts every message right in the web browser before sending it on its way. The messages can't be intercepted or tampered with until they're decrypted by the recipient. Anyone peeking at the data in transit will just see indecipherable garble.
"We send these pieces of content out into the world in such a way that they can't be altered without destroying the signature," says Matt Asher, one of its creators. "Any changes to the messages are detectable because the message won't validate."
I.cx is a working platform, and the trio of Toronto entrepreneurs behind it – Asher, Dann Toliver, and Aidan Gawronski – are marketing it to professionals such as lawyers and accountants and even plastic surgeons, and anyone else who might want an unhackable messaging system for communicating with clients. Alternately, it can be used for a "contact us" form on a website that's encrypted and guaranteed to stay private.
But I.cx is really a demonstrator for the technology that enables it – a platform called Everybit, which wants to turn the tenets of centralized cloud computing on their ears.
This flies in the face of the past decade's migration to the cloud – the giant centralized data centres offering cheap storage and computing power that can be tapped through the Internet.
"We're shifting away from the server being the driving force to the client being the driving force," Asher says. "We're anticipating a world where the computational muscle is mostly client-side."
The developers also note that avoiding central servers also reduces costs for entrepreneurs – if new users to a service are using their own computing power and storage to run the service, they're actually increasing the network's power by joining, rather than running up costs on a central server.
Everybit's architecture also provides for distributed user-management, taking a stab at the long-held dream of breaking the tech giants' way of locking users into logins. Instead of relying on a central server, its encrypted user-authentication system distributes user names and passwords throughout the network.
The firm, which has three full-time staff, works out of the Bento Miso tech community space, and it has already found investment to get the company off the ground. Asher says that the simplicity of its offering is the greatest asset. Nothing needs to be configured on a server; anyone can plug the library into their web app, and start using it immediately.
"The overall increase of use of the platform is really our only concern."